Outside In: Margia Argüello

Margia Argüello was just a few months old in 1984 when her mother brought her from Managua, Nicaragua, to the United States. “So, she comes to the U.S.,” says Margia, “and she files for political asylum. And the INS is like, ‘Oh, we can help you, but we need a letter from your employer stating that you’re in imminent danger.’ And of course her employer is the Daniel Ortega government, so she just had to get a lawyer. So she never was able to get political asylum.” The attorney recommended that Margia’s mother – and her father when he joined them the following year – should apply for a work visa, so that at least they would have some kind of a legal status. “The work status happened right away. They got the work visas, but to become permanent residents, that took sixteen years.”

These images come from a dog-eared scrapbook that Margia has kept all these years. The pages are crammed with her childhood drawings. It’s what they say about a picture being worth a thousand words.

The Argüellos settled in Miami, and initially it was Cubans who helped the family with networking. Then, in the late 1990s, several Cuban and Nicaraguan politicians got together to lobby for NACARA – Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act – and Margia’s family was right at the cusp of this movement. NACARA was advocating for permanent residency and citizenship for people who had come in the 1980s from countries like Cuba and Nicaragua because of the governments there. “So they were able to state a case for people like us,” Margia says. “There was an amnesty, so that’s how we were able to get our permanent residence.” Every year, during the sixteen years that it took for the family to get permanent residence, they had to submit documents “updating that we were here and paying taxes and going to school and all that jazz,” and years later, when Margia applied for citizenship, she remembers going in to see the agent, and he had a stack of papers, like a book of life – report cards from kindergarten all the way up to high school.

Margia describes her parents as being “the second batch to come,” following her aunt who came in the 1970s to seek medical help for Margia’s cousin. Then, in turn, her parents assisted the rest of family to come, guiding them through the process. They helped to raise families and communities, so it wasn’t a normal childhood for Margia. “There were always people in the house. My parents were proactive about lobbying and protesting and signing petitions, and I remember being at rallies with them in downtown Miami. But still, I was a girl scout and sold cookies, so I did some typically American things. But it was bits and pieces of sharing things.”

The question that Margia is struggling with now is where home is for her. After growing up in Miami, she got her undergraduate degree from Cornell University in upstate New York, and she moved to Baltimore twelve years ago to pursue a post-baccalaureate, followed by a Masters in Science, at Johns Hopkins University. Now, she is an Associate at Johns Hopkins Medicine International. “I’ll find it,” she says about her quest for a home. “Baltimore for a while, but maybe it’s time to move on.”

Margia is pretty sure that home is not Nicaragua. “My family there asked if I would ever move there and I don’t think so. I don’t know. I’d love to do something for the country, but I don’t miss growing up there – I know how hard it is.” She’s visited Nicaragua several times in the past and she doesn’t feel Nicaraguan at all. “It’s obvious that I’m sort of this foreigner,” she says. “I go back to my country and they say, ‘you don’t speak like a Spanish person, you don’t walk like a Nicaraguan.’ The strangest part is that you don’t belong anywhere, I don’t know where home is, and growing up in Miami too just adds another layer of insanity because there are so many different nationalities. I see some of my American friends, who are so proud, and they have their flags and this whole lineage of people serving their country, but for me there is no pride. I find myself wishing I had it, and that I was fully accepted here.”

Margia’s extended family is scattered all over the world now – Canada, Australia, Oregon, California, Mexico, Costa Rica, Miami. “What is our family?” she wonders. “Who are we?”

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